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Maslow and Me

Lately I’ve been having an intense affair with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and I am quite surprised at myself for missing this rather unique and insightful piece of work.

Before you think I’ve been living in a cave for the last 73 years (that’s how long his hierarchy has been around – not my age!), let me say that I’ve been aware of Maslow for a while – at least since I was in my teens.

Being in the Weeds

He’s been floating around in my consiousness, causing me to stop now and again – most often when I’ve been down in the weeds about something. Feeling an intense need to stabilize myself – like I did after being fired from a previous job and started worrying about paying for rent and electricity. Which of course was compounded by being hungry. And sad. And angry. Suffice to say there was always a lot going on!

A Positive Thinker

What has been interesting to me however is that Maslow’s (1943) Hierarchy was based not on the negative side of an experience, but on the positive side – on the ‘what goes right’. His interest was in human potential, and in how we individually fulfill that potential.

Getting to the Top

I’ve always considered that attaining that place of self-actualisation (the top of the Maslow pyramid) was the goal. And because that was important to me, it’s what I’ve spent this life striving for. Life circumstances, and some of my choices still kept getting in the way, trapping me and my potential into boxes that didn’t fit.

So, what I hadn’t, until recently, figured out is what motivates me in the first place. After all, according to that pyramid, reaching for love and belonging or even status seems so much, well, easier. Heaven knows, that in some situations it’s pretty tough to feel like you belong, or that you matter. Especially when you find yourself in a job or relationship or situation that feels icky.

Getting to Why

Move Maslow aside for a few minutes and imagine knowing exactly why you make the decisions you do. Imagine the clarity of that. Suddenly, the values that one has are no longer words with a blurry meaning. They are principles that one can adhere to. They are the stake that keeps one on one’s chosen path.

Suddenly, my values are a part of me, not an abstract model, a habit or a ritual. These values that I hold are … me.

So what does motivate me? It’s easy now that I know. It’s growth. I value freedom, mastery, creativity, innovation, potential, independence, meaning, making a difference, and providing worthwhile things. I’m also motived, to a much lesser degree, by achievement and relationships.

What is available with this knowledge? Well first of all, it allows for me to be incredibly present to the moment I am in. It makes is easier for me to discern what is best for me. It’s become my compass. It is freeing me from the inner voices of self-doubt and that 20-20 vision sort of hindsight. The juggling of priorities is gone. I know what matters and what I must do. And it is from here that I can make my biggest difference in the world in which I find myself.

Best of all – I can sleep all night.